Elevating Common Sense

30 01 2009

By Derek Beres

I found Dennis Overbye’s recent essay in the NY Times poignant and interesting, for numerous reasons. The piece revolved around a large sigh that the author took after Barack Obama’s presidential takeover, especially regarding his promise to “restore science to its rightful place.” Commenting on the longstanding “struggle” between science and religion — almost exclusively instigated by the fundamentalist religious community, which somehow believes that science attempts to debunk the validity of religion — Overbye’s feelings are condensed when he writes, “Science is not a monument of received Truth but something that people do to look for truth.”

This is an important observation. Living in a country where some three-fourths of home-schooled children are evangelical Christians — the implications of this include the use of creationist “science” textbooks — I find it ironic that this community is also largely patriotic, espousing the necessity and beauty of the democratic system. As Overbye writes, “If there is anything democracy requires and thrives on, it is the willingness to embrace debate and respect one another and the freedom to shun received wisdom. Science and democracy have always been twins.”

What is created in fundamentalist communities is a neurosis, not a quest for truth; that search is negated by the “truth” of God, Jesus, etc. By design, science is democratic, with its system of checks and balances, the hypotheses that cannot become laws without validation from the community, from rigorous testing, and testing, and testing. This form of communal debate demands attention to detail and an unwavering discipline from its adherents. Simply stating that, “Jesus Christ/God is the truth, because,” is not only fundamentally flawed, it’s downright silly. Such assertions have nothing to do with democracy; if anything, this mindset is totalitarian and implies dictatorship.

Fundamentalism is not reserved for the Christian community; I’ve come across it in yoga circles as well. One example in New York City is the push of certain studios to convert their students into vegans. Apparently not only is the flesh and muscle of animals sadistically devoured by our carnivorous race, but the fruits of these animals’ labor are apparently rotten to boot. Go figure. Of all the Ayurvedic texts that I’ve read, and the amazing Ayurvedic doctor I consult with, I’ve only been told about the wonders of dairy. Now, I certainly cannot argue that factory farming techniques, both meat-based and vegetable-based, involves horrific practices, but to label an entire food source evil? Especially when the “sources” being quoted from were written during the same times when both meat (yoga has not always been a vegetarian discipline by any means) and dairy were being consumed?

Obviously, we’re discussing a minority opinion, and truth is, it will most likely remain that way. While vegetarianism, especially among teens, is on the rise, the scales have to be balanced. Our social quest for more (plant fencerow to fencerow!) has resulted in the unfortunate triple rotations of crops and the unforgivable caging and steroid pumping and forced eating habits of animals. Yet what I’ve always loved about the yogic discipline is its democratic nature: to teach what you know, to learn and incorporate what is true to you, to have compassion for all living beings, including—especially—those you don’t agree with. (And compassion is not thinking, “Oh, one day that ignorant person will learn the truth.” That’s called pity.)

The old school yogis who wrote the texts that today we consider biblical were indeed on the quest for truth, and knew it was not easy. Read a proper translation of Patanjali and tell me there are seven easy steps to anything. Every teaching is irrelevant unless it is practiced and put into motion. And if it doesn’t work, it will be refuted: the beauty of the democratic system, when functioning properly. Yoga has always been a science, and as Overbye observed, “If we are not practicing good science, we probably aren’t practicing good democracy.”

This blog was originally posted on lime.com.

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